Happy Plates

First let me note that I actually don’t have many issues with the “Happy Plate” concept for kids. Kids are finicky, particular, and in some cases, outright obstinate; and while forcing them to eat their [insert whatever it is they’ve decided to hate this week] is counterproductive at best, there’s certainly no shame in suggesting that perhaps they’d like to join the Clean Plate Club at dinnertime. Totally fair game. (Though there’s a certain something to be said for teaching them the difference between “I’m full” and “I don’t like this”. But I digress.)


However, I am a grownup. I have tried the cooked canned peas already, thankyouverymuch, and I already know that I do not like them. I’ll eat fresh peas all day long–I particularly love fresh raw sugar snap peas, and can sit and eat them like chips–but you can go ahead and give my share of the canned crap to someone else who will appreciate it more. I have done my obligatory time as a Person Who Was Served Foods She Hated And Who Had To Grin And Bear It, but now that I have passed the age of majority, I’m off the hook. If there’s something I don’t like, I just don’t cook it, unless I find an exciting new recipe that might make it palatable (I blame my sister-in-law for teaching me how to make sweet potatoes delicious. I might never forgive her for that, because sweet potatoes were such a harmless thing to hate, and she has taken that away from me).


But the Happy Plate training has apparently stuck with me, and lemme tell ya, that’s some hard training to break. Evidently I feel a certain compulsion to clean my plate, regardless of how much food is on it and whether I’m actually hungry or not; it’s like something in me believes that the winning lottery numbers are printed somewhere on the plate below my food, and if I eat everything, I might find ’em. Or maybe there’s a door to Narnia under there. I don’t know.


What I do know is that this should, at least theoretically, be far easier for me to get past than it actually is. If we extend the logic to the rest of the world–i.e., if we work from the idea that “a clean ___ is a happy ___”–then my furniture is among the most depressed furniture in the history of ever, because it gets dusted approximately once every 974 years. The back yard must be on the verge of suicide, because I don’t do a blessed thing with it until it starts looking like it’s going to embarrass me in front of the neighbors. And don’t get me started on the windows, which are actually starting to talk about running away from the oppressive filth regime that is their home. I am clearly–clearly–free from the “clean=happy” mentality in the rest of my life. But the plates, man…they hold me in some strange iron grip, and they aren’t letting go for love or money.


So I’m trying a two-pronged attack here, in an attempt to break the brainwashing:


1. I have added another mantra to my arsenal: The existence of food does not obligate me to its consumption. The zombie apocalypse didn’t happen today, so we are not in a “grab all you can” state yet. Our refrigerator and chest freezer are both fully functional, so I am able to store leftovers safely and eat them again later. The grocery store two inches from the house has not gone out of business, so we can easily go get more food to replace what we use, and I’ll be planting a garden next spring so I can grow some of my own. We are not out of food, nor are we likely to run out anytime soon. Therefore, if I fail to eat until I am bursting at the seams, I am probably not going to starve to death in my sleep. It’s a first-world problem, really, and my eating (or not eating) everything on my plate is going to have absolutely no effect on the starving children of [whichever country my mother chose as an example that day].


2. I am attempting to serve smaller portions, with the idea that unless the zombies invade right this second, I can probably go back for another helping. Granted, we have incredibly poorly behaved cats who have no shame about hopping onto the countertop and sticking their heads into the pots on the stove to see if there’s anything delicious in there. Left to their own devices, they would eat all the leftover meat before we can come back for seconds. But fortunately, we have lids for our pans, and plastic reusable storage containers, and in a worst-case scenario, we can just stick the entire pan into the oven and close the door. There are no roving hordes of starving people battering their way into the kitchen to steal what we’ve made. We have no hungry pixies who will devour anything left unattended. It’s ok to take less food on the first pass and come back later if I’m still hungry. The food will still be there.


With this as with all things, it’s going to take some time to truly deprogram myself. I’ve got years and years of Mom’s voice in my ear, telling me that I’m going to send the plate into a nervous breakdown if I don’t eat everything that’s on it and that all the starving children of [insert subject hometown here] will come water my lawn with their tears if I waste even one molecule of food.


But I’m just going to have to live with that. If I can ignore the cries of my unhappy shelves, then I can ignore the cries of the plates–or at least put less food between myself and their joy.


It’s the holiday season, after all. I’d hate to keep them from all happiness whatsoever.



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